BELOW is most of the political reaction to the accusation by Chief Constable Hugh Orde that the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery…Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness continues to insist that the IRA was not involved in the heist. He said: “Hugh Orde’s comments today are nothing more than politically biased allegations. He has not produced one scrap of evidence. Within days of the robbery at the Northern Bank, and following media speculation and PSNI briefings, which suggested IRA involvement, I asked the IRA about this and was assured that they were not involved.”
The UUP’s Roy Beggs MP wants the nationalist community to stop voting for “a party, which is not committed to exclusively peaceful, lawful and democratic means”.
David Trimble called on the Prime Minister to “use the power created by Ulster Unionist Party pressure and exclude Sinn Fein from any NI Assembly. Failing that, he should close down the Northern Ireland Assembly forthwith”.
The DUP’s Peter Robinson said: “If the Chief Constable confirms IRA involvement the consequences for Sinn Fein will be dire and grim. The DUP demand for absolute certainty about decommissioning and ending all paramilitary and criminal activity will be powerfully vindicated. Our view that the process should move on without those inextricably and symbiotically linked to terrorism and criminality will more and more be seen as the inevitable way forward.”
Alliance’s Seamus Close also wants to move on without Sinn Fein: “People are angry that that the return of their Assembly is being held hostage by paramilitary groups and those involved in criminality. Are democrats going to continue to be held to ransom because the IRA can’t keep its fingers out of the till? Surely now it is time to consider a voluntary coalition of parties that, while they may disagree on many things, are committed to democratic means and do not engage in criminality.”
Alliance Leader David Ford criticised the Prime Minister for not dealing with the issue of paramilitary criminal activity in the recent political talks. He said:
“The recent talks focussed on the sole issue of decommissioning, but Alliance has long warned the Government that the real threat is paramilitary and criminal activity. Sadly, we appear to have been right. The Government should request a report from the IMC giving its assessment of Hugh Orde’s statement and proposing appropriate remedial measures.”
Unionists and Alliance will have been disappointed by the statement from 10 Downing Street, which appears to suggest that moving on without Sinn Fein is not an option:
“The British Prime Minister takes this development very seriously.
“He has made it repeatedly clear over the past two years that the political institutions in Northern Ireland can only be restored if there is a complete end to all paramilitary activity by those involved, and that includes all criminal activity.
“He fully supports the Chief Constable in his efforts to bring those responsible for this major crime to account.”
The SDLP’s Alex Attwood speaking yesterday said: “After repeated republican attempts to demonise members of the PSNI, District Policing Partnerships and the Policing Board, to now hear the IRA complaining of the demonising of republicans is hollow and tiresome. If this is the best the iRA can come up with, it will only serve to strengthen any conviction of their involvement in criminality.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is clearly frustrated by the news, and he and the other parties in the Republic have criticised Sinn Fein strongly. Fine Gael have called on Ahern to reverse his decision to release the killers of Garda McCabe.
Ahern said: “It underscores the need for compelling commitments both in word and deed that the full spectrum of IRA paramilitary activities and capability has been brought to a definitive closure.
He added that this must include the necessary assurance in regard to all forms of criminal activity which, following the Northern Bank robbery, clearly remains a major concern.
“Recent developments have validated the need for such demonstrable commitments if the public confidence necessary to sustain inclusive government is to be achieved.”
The full statement by the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, who is to meet the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Dermot Ahern, next week, is copied below.
The Secretary of State today commented on the statement from the Chief Constable about Provisional IRA involvement in the recent robbery of the Northern Bank in Belfast.
Speaking from New York, the Secretary of State said: “The Chief Constable has fully briefed me on the police investigation into the robbery at the Northern Bank. I am deeply disappointed that the Provisional IRA continue to engage in criminal activity despite the significant progress that has been made over the last few months in the political process. As the Prime Minister said on Thursday, there are no grounds for any misunderstanding: there can be absolutely no place for terrorist activity and there can be no place for criminal activity. The police will follow the evidence wherever it leads and anyone with any information should pass it to them.”
Paul Murphy expressed sympathy for the families who suffered at the hands of the criminal gang. “Some people seem to think that this was a victimless crime. It was not. People were kidnapped. They were held in very distressing circumstances while this robbery was carried out. The experience must have been terrifying and traumatic.”
Paul Murphy also gave his assessment of the impact of the bank robbery on the political process. “Throughout my time as Secretary of State, I have always made clear that peace and stability in Northern Ireland rests on the development of the necessary trust between the communities. Without an end to all paramilitary activity, including criminal activity of all kinds, we shall not be able to re-establish that trust. This incident is deeply damaging. The two governments will reflect carefully on how to take matters forward and to sustain the substantial progress that had been made since the talks at Leeds Castle in September.”